Data storage is to IT what silverware is to a fancy dinner: it may not be the most glamorous or exciting part of the setup, but it's a vitally necessary one (unless, of course, the civilizing process has eluded you and you prefer eating with your hands). And like forks and knives, data storage solutions are already plentiful and come in many shapes and sizes. But that hasn't stopped open source giant Red Hat from making a major bid in this market with its recent acquisition of Gluster. Here's the scoop.

Gluster, based in California, has been around since 2005. It builds scalable storage solutions for public and private clouds and maintains GlusterFS, the open source network-attached file system on which its products are based.

Red Hat, of course, is one of the largest movers and shakers in the open source channel. It owns Red Hat Enterprise Linux and sponsors a wide range of open source projects, among them Fedora Linux, the KVM virtualization hypervisor, the libvirt virtualization library and the Deltacloud API.

Red Hat and Gluster

As announced Oct. 4, 2011, Red Hat has agreed to acquire Gluster for around $136 million. Red Hat's specific intentions following this move have not yet been spelled out publicly, but the company appears committed to pursuing greater involvement in data storage technologies within the open source channel, both in the cloud and beyond:
Red Hat will define a new baseline for how enterprise IT manages the explosion of big data, whether deployed on-premise or spanning into the public cloud. Red Hat is expanding into a critical part of enterprise infrastructure, enabling it to deliver open storage solutions that protect customer investments as they approach the new era of computing.
In a FAQ that accompanied the acquisition announcement, Red Hat emphasized its focus on using Gluster's technologies to deliver simpler, more cost-efficient and more flexible storage solutions via open source technologies:
An important feature of Gluster is that it is a pure software solution, able to run on commodity storage hardware. This differentiates it from many competing products, which require the purchase of specialized, vendor specific hardware. It also offers important customer benefits: lower costs, greater deployment flexibility and reduced vendor lock-in ...

Gluster is distributed across multiple systems and aggregates the total storage into a single namespace. A Gluster cluster exposes this namespace as an NFS or CIFS mount point that contains every file in the cluster. The benefit of this model is that the underlying storage becomes fully virtualized, and can be distributed as widely as required, including across private and public clouds.

The Bigger Picture

The Gluster acquisition will add muscle to Red Hat's already considerable arsenal of resources within the open source channel. It also promises to help the company integrate its existing virtualization and cloud services as it competes against other players in both the open source and proprietary ecosystems.

It remains to be seen how the data storage solutions Red Hat develops in coming months will stack up against those already on the market, such as Likewise Storage Services, which became the chief focus on Likewise a couple months ago.

What's certain, however, is that data storage is a pretty safe investment. There will always be demand for data, and as Red Hat pointed out, the data storage market is currently valued around $4 billion and counting. At the same time, scaling and securing data loads is becoming ever more challenging as more and more resources shift to the cloud.